Long-term Unemployment on the Rise, Overall Unemployment Rates Steady, Blacks and Latinos Still Hit Hardest

By Seth Freed Wessler May 26, 2010

Visual design: Hatty Lee The House is expected to vote today on a measure to extend jobless benefits through the end of the year. If the extension passes, 5 million people who would otherwise be left without support in this ongoing recession will retain their benefits. Today’s vote would come as the country approaches the end of a full year of battering unemployment rates above 9 percent. In that same period, the percent of the unemployed facing long term unemployment–more than 27 weeks– has increased from just over a quarter of all the jobless to about half of the unemployed. For many facing long term unemployment, the extension is a matter of survival. Democrats delayed the extension vote yesterday because conservatives among their own ranks protested the spending. Many fear that when the Senate takes up the matter, likely to be on Friday, Republicans and possibly some Democrats–Sen. Ben Nelson of Nebraska, for example–will once again attempt to block the extension. In the past, Senate Republicans have argued that paying for more unemployment insurance will only add to the deficit and encourage the unemployed to stay out of work. While official unemployment is high for everyone, it’s especially high for people of color. Blacks and Latinos have throughout the recession faced levels of joblessness higher than whites and now while 9 percent of whites are unemployed, 16.5 percent of Blacks and 12.5 percent of Latinos are without work. For young people of color and those who were already poor before the recession as well as single mothers, the rates of joblessness are even higher. People of color are also more likely to be out of work for longer. According to data released to EbonyJet.com by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, while people of color make up about 25% of all unemployed workers, they comprise closer to 30% of workers who have been unemployed for longer than 52 weeks. Last month, hundreds of thousands were threatened with a temporary loss of benefits after Republicans blocked an extension and then left for recess. This time, it appears the House is ready to pass a more lasting solution that would avoid monthly battles over the fate of the jobless program in future months. But even if the House passes the extension today, the Senate may be a more difficult sell. Because Congress is scheduled to close shop at the end of the week for the Memorial Day recess, failure to extend the program the this week would delay passage until June 7th at the earliest. According to the National Employment Law Project, an advocacy group that tracks the impact of unemployment benefits, 300,000 jobless Americans will reach the end of the benefits on June 12, the Friday after Congress returns. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has committed to passing an extension before the break and said he’d make Congress work through the weekend if that’s whats needed to get it through. “We must pass the new jobs bill this week, in the next few days," he said, at a press conference. The unemployment benefit extension is part of the "American Jobs and Closing Loopholes Act of 2010," a larger jobs bill that also continues the Temporary Aid to Needy Families Emergency Fund, extends the COBRA insurance program for the unemployed, provides states with funds to prevent teacher layoffs and maintains Medicare reimbursement rates for doctors. The act also includes tax increases on high level employees of private equity firms. According to Reuters, private equity firm lobbyists have been pushing hard to stop the part of the bill that would generate about $20 billion in taxes over the next decade. Last month, Colorlines went out on the street to talk to folks about what unemployment insurance means and why they need an extension. Here’s what they had to say: